If I had to offer one wish for 2017 and beyond, it would be for every parent and grandparent with children in our public school system to realize the immense power within them to influence the trajectory of kids’ lives – to both the positive and negative.
That parents understand that their words, actions and inaction, habits, mores, and interests are poured into the babies daily. They are listening, they are watching, they are waiting for direction, they are depending on us to get it right.
Recently, a good friend shared Alan Page’s NFL Hall of Fame speech with me recently (h/t to David Fox the baseball guy). Being a huge football fan and knowing Hall of Fame speeches never disappoint, I immediately dove in.
It was refreshing to see Alan Page, once a terror on the football field, lovingly use this international platform to deliver a call to action.
Page unabashedly educates future generations on the ills of society, the killing of black teens’ spirits, and the power of parents to effect change.
And this happened in 1988…
It’s long, but worth it.
Willarene Beasley (Presenter):
“…Presently Alan is an Assistant Attorney General in the State of Minnesota. Alan is known as NFL marathon man. He is believed to be the only NFL player to have completed a marathon. He has been a radio commentator; he was selected one out of 10 US Jaycee Outstanding Young Men and so his lists of charity, community and professional organizations is insurmountable. All of us who know Alan Page, know that he has strong philosophical views regarding the education of sports. Alan believes that involvement in sports makes for a healthy body and mind and he warns that sports is just a short-lived career that one must be prepared for a second career. Alan states that education and sports go together and we as parents and community leaders, makes sure it works. Education and sports benefits all of us. Alan says that we must put these in proper perspective. Sports must be used as an incentive for young people to get an education and not as a substitute. Alan warns do not major in football. Play the sport, it is good to play the sport, but learn to read, and to write and to develop marketable skills. If a student can be a winner in sports, a student can be a winner in education.”
“…Millions of blacks and other minorities stand tall today for Alan has helped to change the stereotypes of blacks. He not only excelled in sports, but he excelled in education.”
“…Alan sums it up best in a poem by Alfred Lloyd Tennison and I will just do an excerpt, “I am a part of all that I have met.”
“…Because it is a great honor to be here today. Football was very good to me, and my good fortune has continued in my chosen career as a lawyer. But in that world where I now work, professional accomplishment is measured on a far different scale over a much longer period of time. So I find it a bit strange to again be the object of this much attention for what I accomplished many years ago, in a very narrow field of endeavor called football.
As my football career ended, many of my contemporaries were already beginning to make their impact felt in society. And they continue – healing the sick, creating jobs, defending people in trouble and seeking peace among nations. Very few of them will ever receive the lavish tribute that someone like me has received here today for playing a game called football.
It’s hard to say what today’s inductees will mean to future generations, but I for now, we are still looked upon as role models. And as role models have an obligation, I think, to relate to the needs of the future, and not just relate to the deed of the past.
It’s certainly okay to enjoy the glory and the truths of bygone days. But I think all the men you see here today reached the Hall of Fame because they couldn’t be satisfied with their past performances. So as I try to give meaning to this occasion for myself, I want to focus on what I can do for the future.
On this occasion, I ask myself, “What contribution can I still make that would be truly worthy of the outpouring of warmth and good feelings as I have received today?” And the answer, for me, is clear: “to help give other children the chance to achieve their dreams.”
I don’t know when children stop dreaming. But I do know when hope starts leaking away, because I’ve seen it happen. Over the past 10 years, I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with school kids of all ages. And I’ve seen the cloud of resignation move across their eyes as they travel through school, without making progress. They know they are slipping through the net into the huge underclass that our society seems willing to tolerate. At first, the kids try to conceal their fear with defiance.
Then, for far too many, the defiance turns to disregard for our society rules. It’s then that we have lost them and maybe forever.
But this loss is not always as apparent as the kid who has dropped out of school for life on the street. I’ve seen lost men in the National Football League. When I played for the Vikings, there was an occasion where we had a new defensive line coach and he wanted us to read the playbook to learn it and probably wasn’t a bad idea if you could read. There were nine players in the group, three of us read pretty well. Two do so so, did okay, got through it. The other four had a difficult time and struggled. It was painful for them, but it was painful for all of us. And we all shared their pain. These same young men were once the heroes of their schools, showered with recognition and praise for their athletic performance and allowed to slide in the classroom. And for their time in the NFL, at least, they were the lucky ones because they had beaten the long, 18,000 to 1 odds to make it that far. But without reading skills, what were their chances of finding employment once their playing days were over?
We are doing no favors to the young men from Miami and Chicago and Philadelphia and L.A., if we let them believe that a game shall set them free. At the very best, athletic achievement might open a door that discrimination once held shut. But the doors slam quickly on the unprepared and the undereducated.
We are at a point in our history where black teenagers constitute the most unemployed and undervalued people in our society. And instead of making a real investment in education that could pay itself back many times, our society has chosen to pay the price three times: Once when we let kids slip through the educational system, twice, when they drop out to a street life of poverty, dependence and maybe even crime; and a third time when we warehouse those who have crossed over the line and have gotten caught.
The cost of his neglect is immense in dollars and in abuse of the human spirit. We must educate our children. We don’t have a choice. Once we’ve let it reach this point, the problem is virtually too big and too expensive to solve. But we can make a difference, if we go back into the schools and find the shy ones and the stragglers, the square pegs and the hard cases, before they’ve given up on the system, and before the system has given up on them.
Then we say to those children: “You’re important to our world, and to our future. We want you to be successful and have the things you want in life. But being successful and reaching your dreams takes work. It means being responsible for yourself. It means being willing to go to class and doing your homework and participating in the opportunity to learn, then you have no right to complain about the unfairness if you are not willing to do that. You’re not alone in all of this. But only you, the student, can do the work that will make you free. If you wait until college – or even until high school – to get serious about an education, you may be too late. It’s hard to go back as an adult to learn what you missed in the third grade. It’s important to dream, but it’s through learning and work that dreams become reality.
We must, as I said, educate our children. But we can’t preach responsibility to our children if we don’t accept it ourselves. We as parents, especially in the black community, must accept that we bear responsibility for our children. We must work with them. Not just by developing their hook shots or their throwing arms, but by developing their reading and their thinking abilities and if we don’t have the skills ourselves to pass on, we can still encourage them, reward them and praise their academic accomplishments.
We can educate our children. We shouldn’t put down athletics, because that teaches children the value of teamwork and disciplined effort. But we must insist that our children take school seriously. And if they can’t handle the demands of both, then maybe athletics should go. Finally, you and I, all of you out there, all of you who hear and see this speech, can make a difference as members of our communities. We can’t just leave it to the schools, or the social workers, or the police and the legal system. We ultimately pay the cost of our educational system’s failures. But we also have the solutions within our power. If we educate our children, we can support the schools and the teaching profession instead of complaining about them. We can honor students and teachers who excel with the same rewards and recognition that we honor our coaches and our athletes.
As it stands, how can we expect kids with poor self esteem and shaky reading skills to pursue academics when often the only reinforcement they get is athletics. Now, these words may seem simple to the people on the front lines who have seen too many of the lost, and too few of the victorious. The jobless single mother may have too little hope for herself to share some with her children. To the kid surrounded by drugs and violence and acres of rotting city, a job in a law firm may seem more unrealistic being here on the steps of the Hall of Fame as I am today. And so we, who have been insulated by our successes from a loss of hope, must not turn our backs on these children. We must not concede their lives to the forces that have worn down so many children. As I said before, we must educate our children.
Yes, the things I’m suggesting are simple. But I’ve learned from school, from football, and from the law that even the biggest, scariest problems can be broken down to their fundamentals. And if all of us cannot be superstars, we can remember to repeat the simple fundamentals of taking responsibility for ourselves, and for the children of this country. We must educate our children. And if we do, I believe that will be enough. Thank you.”